ESSMA on tour: Grassmax Systems’ Xpert meeting on Cost-efficient pitch management

View the photo album of the event here >>>

On Tuesday 30 May, ESSMA-partners Grassmax systems and Covermaster hosted an expert meeting for Belgian and Dutch professionals from the pitch management industry. The meeting was hosted at the Royal Belgian FA’s national training centre in Tubize and at Antwerp FC’s Bosuil stadium. During the meeting, participants were given more insights as to how they can cost-efficiently maintain their pitch while guaranteeing the same quality, illustrated with case studies from KAA Gent, Go Ahead Eagles and KRC Genk.

Live Demo session at Antwerp FC’s Bosuil

Grassmax’s Xpert meeting kicked off with a visit to Antwerp FC’s Bosuil stadium where participants got to see the club’s professional groundsman team in action as they were in the middle of the stripping and relaying process of the hybrid training pitch in front of the stadium.

Royal Belgian football association: A state of the art training centre needs hybrid pitches

With a first practical experience, the group moved to the state-of-the-art national training centre in Tubize, where they were welcomed by Head of Proximus Basecamp and ESSMA ExCo Member, Frédéric Veraghaenne with a presentation on the current facilities at the national training centre, which include:

  • 2 artificial pitches
  • 1 indoor hall with an artificial pitch
  • 2 natural pitches
  • 3 hybrid pitches
  • 2 padel courts
  • 1 tennis court
  • 1 beach soccer pitch
  • The FA’s administrative offices
  • 28 dressing rooms
  • 1 Hotel and congress centre

Mr. Veraghaenne also detailed the planned development projects of 2023-2025 for the site, which include: 

  • Adding 3 new pitches 
  • Developing 1 Handisport pitch
  • Adding 1 wind turbine to provide the whole site with renewable energy 
  • Adding 1 water basin to hydrate the pitches on-site

 Finally, Mr. Verghaenne also explained why the Belgian FA chose to renovate 2 of its pitches and turn them into hybrid pitches, which gave them the advantages of having almost double usage while maintaining the same technical qualities, offer a perfectly even surface both in winter and in summer and have some advantages to make pesticide-free pitch maintenance easier. 

Cost-efficient pitch management 

Case Study 1: KAA Gent’s Hybrid pitch survives the toughest conditions

All 3 organising partners of the Xpert meeting then presented case studies on how to maintain a pitch in a cost-efficient way, while maintaining the same quality.

First up, Yves De Cocker (Sales Manager at Grassmax) explained the importance of having hybrid stitched pitches which are stronger, more reliable and easier to maintain.

As an example, we looked at the case of KAA Gent, who (due to the high cost of energy lighting in the winter of 2022-23) were forced to use a minimal amount of pitch heating and pitch lighting. This effected the quality of the pitch negatively, culminating in disastrous playing conditions during the game KAA Gent – Istanbul Basaksehir in March 2023 after some heavy rainfall.

Luckily, thanks to the strength and reliability of the hybrid pitch, the team were able to quickly get the pitch back into good playing conditions, already reaching 90 percent grass density by May, less than 2 months after the Basaksehir game. The Hybrid system helped to keep the pitch intact, even in the toughest conditions. Whereas a natural pitch would have likely been destroyed and could have potentially cost around €90.000 to renovate, the hybrid pitch survived the challenge and always guaranteed the player safety.

GrassMax Systems on Twitter: "Belgium's most modern stadium, K.A.A. Gent's  Ghelamco Arena, has opted to rebuild the playing surface in only 2,5 weeks  in November and facing severe weather challenges. Great planning

Case Study 2: KRC Genk saves on energy costs through innovation  

Eddy Van Endert, Head Groundsman at KRC Genk joined the group to tell us more about how they have constantly grown and innovated the grounds management team in Genk over the last couple of years. The team has been able to get buy-in from the upper management, with the head groundsman having a direct line to the sporting director and they have been able to convince them of the importance of investing in innovative technologies to efficiently maintain the pitch.

After COVID, the team was faced with energy prices that went through the roof and lower revenues from empty stadiums. This meant that the management team in the club decided that the pitch managers would have less access to undersoil heating, water usage and lighting rigs. Mr. Van Endert and his team therefore were forced to find alternative solutions to allow them to work more efficiently on a lower budget.

To efficiently maintain quality pitches the team invested in:

  • Robotic line markers
    These automated line markers can help to save 2 FTE’s per week and will use less paint for the same job. While the team would never use them on the stadium pitch (due the small mistakes it still makes) they have found the robot to be an excellent, time-saving alternative for their training pitches.
  • O2 pitches (lava pitches)
    The team didn’t have the budget to invest in hybrid pitches and therefore decided to invest in the alternative of lava pitches. While they do not fully offer the same reliability and strength of a true hybrid pitch, they do have the advantage of offering more stability, good drainage and maintaining more heat in the surface during winter than natural pitches.
  • LED Lighting rigs
    An investment in Rhenac’s LED lighting rigs meant that the team would have better quality lighting with a lower supply need to power the rigs.
  • Data driven pitch management
    KRC Genk’s grounds management team strongly believes in the power of data. They test very frequently and us the data to adapt their approach when needed or to convince the upper management when important decisions or investments need to be made.
  • Covermaster pitch covers
    Last but not least, KRC Genk invested in a Covermaster Evergreen Cover and Covermaster rain cover to cover their pitches to survive the toughest circumstances. The covers are mostly used on their training pitches, since they were not fitted with undersoil heating. But when used in the stadium, Mr. Van Endert and his team have noticed a saving of 25-30 percent in heating costs. The Covermaster pitch cover helps to maintain the heat on the pitch, protects from snow and heavy rainfall and can be used in combination with sprinklers and growing lights. The team at KRC Genk say they have recovered their initial investment in the covers in less than 3 years.

Racing Genk Chooses for Evergreen and Raincover of Covermaster – [ESSG]  Event and Stadium Suppliers Group

Case Study 3: Go Ahead Eagles’ efficient use of water reserves

For the last presentation of the day, Ron Janssen (Operations Supervisor at Go Ahead Eagles) joined the group to explain more about an innovative technology that allows for more efficient use of water reserves. The machine which Go Ahead Eagles will start using as of next season is said to be greener, stronger and better than “traditional” hydration methods and can be fully automated.

The machine can be installed on any pitch and uses its innovative technology to drain water from the pitch when there is too much and stores it in a water reserve for later use when there isn’t enough. It uses its sensors and AI technology to automatically adapt to weather conditions and adjust its hydration levels. While the technology can be set to fully run on its own, it can also be controlled by the grounds management team on the machine’s interface or from any connected smart device. Its method of hydrating the pitch from below the ground combined with its below-ground aeration is said to be superior to traditional hydration methods and should help prevent diseases.

The system will be installed at Go Ahead Eagles’ Adelaarshorst stadium, where new laws will force the club to limit the amount of water they can pump from their traditional reserves. The system combined with plans to create new water basins around their parking lots (which serve a dual use of providing water and providing a safety barrier around the parking lot) would help solve this problem.

Guided visit of RBFA’s Proximus Basecamp

To close this insightful Xpert session, the group was shown around the RBFA’s Proximus Basecamp on a tour guided by Mr. Frédéric Veraghaenne (Head of Proximus Basecamp) and Mr. Frédéric Cahay (Head Groundsmanager RBFA). Participants got to see the excellent training pitches were players like Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne have practiced their craft and were given an explanation on how the grounds management team works meticulously to provide pitches to match the world-class of these players. With a development plan that (among other projects) includes adding three more pitches this is a truly worthy home for Belgium’s biggest football talents.

Posted on 09/06/2023